Terry’s 40th Birthday Quilt

I knew I wanted to do something special for Terry’s 40th birthday this June but was having a hard time deciding on what to do.  While searching for ideas, I came across a book about memory quilts.  In it, a mother had sewn patches from all her son’s various naval duty stations onto a quilt and… ding… I had my idea!

Terry has a wonderfully detailed memory for facts on almost any subject.  I’ve seen him carry on educated conversations with people on subjects I didn’t even know existed.  But when it comes to us and our 20 year history, he is a dud.  No kinder way to say it.  My thought was that if I were to make a quilt chronicling his Marine service and our early relationship, it would be both meaningful and helpful. 

I started in mid-February, gathering letters we had written to one another over the years.  We wrote a lot.  This was the early 90’s and payphones were expensive for a corporal and his college girlfriend.  Plus, Terry spent a lot of time deployed and unable to call.  No one was using computers to communicate back then (although I did receive a phone call from a ham radio operator at one point relaying a message from my boyfriend during the first Gulf War… but that’s another story!) 

I have to say it was a lot of fun re-reading all those letters.  I was worried I would find my old self to be a stupid little girl who was enamored with being in love.  But I was glad to discover that my 39 year old self would still like my 19 year old self (although I would probably roll my eyes at her from time to time)

In re-reading these letters and digging up all those old pictures, I was able to document Terry’s service from boot camp on Parris Island, SC in the winter of ’90, to his getting out party in Maryland in ’95.   He had been stationed in or visited 12 locations during his 6 years of service.  I decided to replicate each state or country in a brown fabric and surround that image with fabric copies of letters and pictures that corresponded to it.  So the South Carolina block looks like this….. surrounding the state are pictures of Terry and myself on his graduation day.  Plus copies of some letters we wrote and their envelopes.  He also got his first stripes there and I included a fabric copy of those as well.

There are a few blocks that contain inside jokes.  Like the receipt Terry saved from the car rental agency in Rhodes Island, Greece. Terry’s friend Glenn bought the insurance for $5, which saved them from having the replace an entire car after they drove it through an outdoor cafe.  I don’t have ALL the stories from that day trip, but I believe Terry didn’t remember much either.  On the weekend of Terry’s birthday, we visited with some of the Marines from his unit.  Terry brought out this quilt and the stories that got passed around after seeing this particular block — well, they don’t bear repeating!

Some of the blocks have letters of accommodation that Terry received during his service.  Maryland has one from a paper he wrote for the 1995 Cryptologic History Symposium.  The chair acknowledged that the work Terry did for them marked the beginning of the history of the Marine Corps Communications Intelligence.  Told you he was smart!  When he saw that letter again, it really moved him.  Sometimes when we get bogged down in bill paying and the day-to-day grind, we forget how much we have really done with our lives.

One final interesting thing about Terry’s duty stations… a lot of these places don’t exist anymore.  The school where he went for morse code training is now a college campus.  Norway (featured to the right) is no longer a temporary duty station for cold weather training (although it was never in the Antarctic Circle, as Terry’s service ribbon attests).  And Homestead, where he was stationed in Florida, was blown away by hurricane Andrew in ’92.  This quilt is not only a record of the beginning of our romance, but also the Reader’s Digest version of life in the Marine Corps, ’90-’96. 

The fabric I used for this quilt is mostly recycled.  The log cabin blocks are made up of fabric from Terry’s uniforms.  The strips of denim surrounding the ‘location’ blocks are from old jeans.  I used a special, washable fabric for the copies of photos and letters. A lot of people marvel at us using a quilt like this.  But for me, it is like the wedding china;  the only real value that is has is in the memories it carries when you use it.   With the cooler weather, Terry and I have been sleeping under this quilt of  memories every night!


I have always loved the process of transforming pieces of fabric into quilts. For years I collected scraps, just to be sure I'd have the right piece for the project at hand. Eventually, as my skills progressed, my hobby grew into art. I moved from simple quits, to 'landscape quilting' and then eventually onto portrait work. I am new to the art field and am self-taught, learning from my mistakes as well as from my successes. I create my images using only fabric and thread. I remain true to this limitation for two reasons; first, I love the challenge of finding new ways to depict ever more challenging subjects. Second, fabric work remains my true love. I enjoy the hunt for fabrics; where other artists might blend oil paints, I love finding that perfect shade or pattern for a specific need. I refer to my style as "gestalt impressionism" for one needs to take a step back from my pieces to get the whole picture. My view point changes by what is influencing me at the time. Recently I've begun to focus on the journey of the individual. I enjoy working on portraits of people whom I feel have lead interesting lives.

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5 comments on “Terry’s 40th Birthday Quilt
  1. Terry Mahoney says:

    Wow! I love this quilt. I think you worked on it for months.

    Rhodes…. I would share all the stories, but I don’t think the statute of limitations is up yet.

    Semper Fi,

  2. Marisa Bennett says:

    I still remember the photo album you made for Terry with the camoflauge material on the outside. You were so proud of it! Do you still have it?

    • Of course I still have it! You remember that? I bought like 8 yards of material to cover that little photo album (how stupid was I?) Obviously I never throw anything away, so I ended up using that leftover fabric to make Marine Corps dress-up clothes for the boys a few years back. I’ll have to post those photos sometime.
      And by the way, thanks so much for checking out my blog!

  3. […] the trip down for the afternoon and it was spectacular.   The whole party was themed around that 40th birthday quilt I made for him.  It was so thoughtful and so much work!  I was truly blown […]

  4. […] the trip down for the afternoon and it was spectacular.   The whole party was themed around that 40th birthday quilt I made for him.  It was so thoughtful and so much work!  I was truly blown away The folks and the […]

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